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October 16-- The State of Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) has withdrawn King America Finishing’s (KAF) water pollution permit today, and is requiring the company to perform an anti-degradation analysis.

EPD had issued the permit in August 2012 after heated opposition by the public and Ogeechee Riverkeeper (ORK), who challenged the State on the basis that the draft permit would allow excessive amounts of ammonia and other toxic chemicals to be released into the Ogeechee River. On September 7, 2012, Ogeechee Riverkeeper filed a permit appeal in the Office of State Administrative Hearings stating the permit continued to allow King America Finishing to pollute the river.

With the appeal and subsequent withdrawal of the permit, Ogeechee Riverkeeper has successfully forced EPD to do a careful analysis of whether the degradation of water quality KAF’s permit allows is justified. “We appreciate that EPD is going to undertake a review of this permit to see whether the pollution this plant causes makes sense given the huge environmental impact it has,” says Hutton Brown, attorney with Greenlaw who is representing Ogeechee Riverkeeper.  “We hope that EPD will use this opportunity to require that KAF eliminate any pollutants from going into the river.” The Ogeechee River experienced the largest fish kill in Georgia’s history last year and it has still not fully recovered from that devastation. Wildlife and fish sightings are rare and people are afraid to recreate along the river for fear of toxic pollution.

Don Stack of Stack & Associates, another environmental law firm also representing Ogeechee Riverkeeper says, “We appreciate that the State has finally recognized its latest error in a long series of errors in permitting any discharge from KAF without following the legally required procedures to determine the effects that those discharges will have on the precious Ogeechee River.  However, it is truly amazing and very disheartening that the citizens of this State must engage in protracted litigation to force the State itself, let alone the polluter, to obey the law.  The citizens and the River continue to pay the price for the State’s failure to adequately preserve and protect its natural resources.” 

Codified as part of Georgia’s water quality standards, Georgia’s Anti-Degradation Policy states in part:

“Where the quality of the waters exceed levels necessary to support propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife and recreation in and on the water, that quality shall be maintained and protected unless the division finds, after full satisfaction of the intergovernmental coordination and public participation provisions of the division’s continuing planning process, that allowing lower water quality is necessary to accommodate important economic or social development in the area in which the waters are located. In allowing such degradation or lower water quality, the division shall assure that there shall be achieved the highest statutory and regulatory requirements for all new and existing point sources…” Ga. Comp. R. & Regs. r. 391-3-6-.03(2)(b)(ii)

“We are glad the state of Georgia has decided to take King America Finishing’s pollution seriously,” states Dianna Wedincamp, Ogeechee Riverkeeper. “The discharge limits of toxic chemicals by KAF’s permit would cause irreparable harm to the fragile ecosystem of this blackwater river, and allowing KAF to add effluent equaling 10% of the flow of the river is outrageous. We hope the anti-degradation analysis will show that allowing KAF to dump toxins into the Ogeechee at any level is absolutely unacceptable.” 

Because the permit has been withdrawn by the Environmental Protection Division, Ogeechee Riverkeeper will be submitting an order to the court dismissing their current permit appeal. There is always the opportunity to file another appeal if an unsatisfactory permit is issued again.